Conservative Anti-Fascism

June 6, 2017, Dennis Prager wrote:

One would think that Jonah Goldberg, of all people, would understand this. He is the author of what I consider to be a modern classic, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Change.

His book leads to one conclusion: We are fighting fascism. How is that not a civil war? When you fight fascism, you are not merely fighting a “culture war.”

That Dennis Prager considers the book Liberal Fascism a modern classic reveals his willingness to believe any nonsense if it fits with his agenda.

Michael Ledeen wrote:

What is missing from Jonah’s book…is the specific historical context from which fascism was born: the First World War. Fascism was created in the trenches of that war, it was a war ideology from beginning to end, and the central core of fascism was composed of two basic concepts. First, the conviction that the only people worthy of political power were those who had been tested and proven in combat (for the most part, the brownshirts were veterans, and the socialists they attacked had been pacifists or neutralists). And second, that Western civilization was under siege from the left, that is, from communists and socialists.

Jonah, instead, says (pg. 80) “Fascism, at its core, is the view that every nook and cranny of society should work together in spiritual union toward the same goals overseen by the state.” Certainly Mussolini and his cohorts believed that (how did it go? “Everything in the State; Nothing outside the State”…), but that is not the central core of fascism; it’s not Mussolini or his imitators, and certainly not Hitler, whose vision was global, not just national. The issue is “the same goals,” not just the methods of rule.

The weakest part of the book has to do with the Nazis. All of us who have worked on fascism have had to try to figure out to what extent Hitler belongs inside the category. As Jonah says, Hitler worshiped Mussolini (a love that was not reciprocated), but the Fuhrer was driven by racism and antisemitism, not by the sort of nationalism the Italians embraced. It is very hard to find a political box big enough to accommodate the two, and, like the rest of us, Jonah huffs and puffs trying to make one. Predictably, he has to downplay Hitler’s ideology. He calls Hitler a “pragmatist,” and then adds “saying that Hitler had a pragmatic view of ideology is not to say that he didn’t use ideology. Hitler had many ideologies. Indeed he was an ideology peddler.”

So much for the view–the fact–that Hitler was driven, from an early age, by an antisemitism so virulent that he would not rest until he had set in motion the Holocaust. Indeed, in one of Liberal Fascism’s most unfortunate phrases, Jonah trivializes Nazi racism, equating it with some American political rhetoric:

“What distinguished Nazism from other brands of socialism and communism was not so much that it included more aspects from the political right (though there were some). What distinguished Nazism was that it forthrightly included a worldview we now associate almost completely with the political left: identity politics.”

And in case you thought he was kidding, he repeats it a few pages later: “What mattered to (Hitler) was German identity politics.”

Paul Gottfried wrote in his 2016 book Fascism: The Career of a Concept:

Goldberg goes after Democratic politicians who, according to him, are pursuing economic and social policies similar to those of Mussolini and Hitler. Programs aimed at American youth are compared to Mussolini’s Balilla and the Hitlerjugend, and American public works proposals are seen as derivative of or closely related to fascist and Nazi plans of the 1930s.17 After hundreds of pages of these often strained comparisons between fascist and Democratic orators, it is hard to miss the point: if Democratic partisans in Hollywood have gone after Republicans as fascists, then
the other party should be allowed to play the same game.

Goldberg’s partisan attack is far from convincing. The early American critics who made the comparisons in question were looking at the way political actors defined themselves: American New Dealers and their social democratic allies were praising the Italian fascist model while establishing an American welfare state. One cannot recall the last time the Obama administration extolled either Mussolini or Hitler when trying to bail out
the Obama administration’s supporters. Goldberg’s application of the fascist branding iron has its origin in intermural politics. It is part of a game in which the advocates of one party cast aspersions on those of the other.

Modern industrial democracies have huge welfare states that the major parliamentary blocs (there are usually two) accept as a given. If we wish to condemn one of the two institutionalized parties as “fascist” for building
and sustaining a large administrative state, then why not make the same judgment about the other? Nowhere does Goldberg suggest that he would rescind the “fascist” handiwork that he attributes to the Democrats before the election of Obama. And for a good reason! By now that handiwork belongs as much to his party as it does to the opposition.

Paul Gottfried wrote in his 2021 book Antifascism: The Course of a Crusade::

* Antifascist polemics have played a critical role in conservative discourse by typically recycling the other side’s arguments to make them !t the needs of establishment conservatives and the Republican Party. According to this account, the Democratic Party swarms with fascists, while the Republican Party is fighting for equality and human rights. Widely acclaimed conservative antifascists include journalist Jonah Goldberg, radio talk show host and author Dennis Prager, and author, filmmaker, and commentator Dinesh D’Souza. Although none of these celebrities has more than a nodding acquaintance with their subject, they do provide their base with a steady supply of sound bites.

Exemplifying media conservative antifascism is Jonah Goldberg’s 2007 best-seller Liberal Fascism, which claims that the other national party has been historically linked to fascism. Goldberg, a nationally syndicated Republican columnist, focuses on the putative parallels between the rhetoric of Mussolini and Hitler and the proposals of 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. Because Hillary Clinton favored extensive social programs that resembled those advocated by interwar fascists, her platform supposedly revealed a connection between fascism and the Democratic Party.

Hillary’s references to a new “village” under government auspices was really just a throwback to Hitler’s Volksgemeinschaft, and the Democratic Party’s endorsement of af!rmative action programs for minorities and women is supposedly the modern equivalent of Hitler’s exclusion of Jews from German public life under the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.1 The reproduction at the end of his book of the 1920 Nazi Party Platform in translation is intended to point out that the Democratic Party, even before Barack Obama arrived on the national scene, was on its way to replicating the politics of the Third Reich.

Goldberg offers this antifascist principle that government should follow: “The role of the state should be limited, and its meddling should be seen as an exception.”2 Although there is nothing wrong with this maxim in theory, the devil, of course, is in the details. How exactly do we decide what is meddling and what is a proper form of state intervention? In Goldberg’s case this question is a no-brainer. Every social and anti-discriminatory program passed before 2007 (when his book was published) was !ne, providing both parties signed off on it. Accordingly, Goldberg disapproved of presidential candidate Rand Paul questioning the existence of a Department of Education or the public accommodations provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Yet Goldberg also has a problem with far more moderate steps undertaken by Democrats Woodrow Wilson and FDR to erect a modern welfare state.3 Goldberg’s work seems to have served as a blueprint for other Republicans
who make it their business to address the fascist problem. Republican talk show host Dennis Prager has produced commentaries on the fascist peril for his Prager University, which his website describes as “the world’s
leading conservative nonprofit that is focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media.” Based on his sketch of the thinking of the neo-Hegelian Italian philosopher Giovanni Gentile (1875–1944), Prager’s frequent guest Dinesh D’Souza opines that “fascists are socialists with a national identity.” He notes, “The Left has vastly expanded state control over the private sector,” and concludes that “fascism bears a deep kinship to the ideology of today’s Left.”4 The logic is that any thinker, regime, or movement that has advocated an expansion of the state exemplifies both fascism and “today’s Left.”

* An equally questionable attribution of fascism to one’s enemies on the Left can be found in Dennis Prager’s blanket statement: “if there is a real fascist threat to America, it comes from the left whose appetite for state power is essentially unlimited.”10 Were fascists the only past political actors who craved “state power”? If this were the case, all political leaders who displayed an appetite for unlimited power throughout history would have to be classified as fascists.

Equally questionable is the notion that governments become fascist when they reach a certain tipping point in their acquisition of power or in their appropriation of GNP from the private sector. Although we may agree that
giving the state unlimited power is detrimental to freedom, this is not the same as saying that to do so is to become fascist. The postwar Labour government in England nationalized industries on a scale that went beyond anything that was tried in fascist Italy between 1922 and 1943. Between 1945 and 1951 the Labour government of Clement Attlee nationalized one-fifth of the British economy, yet this did not mean that England by 1951 had become more of a fascist state than Italy was in 1930.11 In England, the growth of state power proceeded from leftist, egalitarian, and at least implicitly internationalist premises; in Fascist Italy, the state appealed to hierarchy and revolutionary nationalist principles as it claimed to speak for all Italians.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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